Taking over an old café and creating something new for a local suburban clientele requires the wisdom to listen and dexterity to adapt, as the team at Walkerville's Lonely Hearts recently learned.
How to make friends with Lonely Hearts
There is an age-old cliché that sits at the tip of every service industry worker’s tongue – the customer is always right.
Though it’s often recited, today, at least in the hospitality industry, it’s largely understood to be an anachronism – in the view of staff and customers alike.
You should always opt for a favourite if that’s what you’re feeling. But when frequenting cafés, bars and restaurants , it pays to approach the menu with an open mind.
Every meal eaten out is an opportunity for the staff – many of whom have been hired for their passion and curiosity for food and drink – guide you toward a more interesting dish, a new discovery.
This is the philosophy that was instilled in Paul Lynch during his year and a half stint working at CBD restaurant and bar Part Time Lover, where he was part of the opening team.
“I got to work with Luke Turton (Part Time Lover co-owner), who is a great friend of mine now, and he taught me a whole new way about hospitality,” Paul says.
“What I mean by that is… pushing back on customers, so constantly giving them new suggestions or ideas, or different ways to dine, which just enhances their experience.”
This style of service is a delicate art, as Paul discovered upon opening his first hospitality venture last year – Lonely Hearts, in Walkerville.
Paul grew up with an interest in business. He never thought this would be in hospitality, but, having worked in the industry, it was the first opportunity that came to him.
His business partners (all of whom are silent) found the Walkerville site before Paul was part of the project, but invited him in to be a co-owner and public face of the business.
“It was always a dream of mine to get into business and ownership,” Paul says.
“That was my strong suit at school, was business. I went and did one year of uni, was studying business, and then I came to the realisation [I wanted] to learn on the job, build my career that way.”
Located at the base of Walkerville hotel The Watson, Paul and his business partners took over the space and briefly continued to run it as Local Grind, which it had operated as for seven years.
After three months, they debuted their new concept and brand, Lonely Hearts, with a graphic identity by tattoo artist Kyle Woodman. New here? Sign up to receive the latest happenings from around our city, sent every Thursday afternoon.
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The Lonely Hearts concept was noticeably different from Local Grind, with Paul hoping to evolve the venue from a reliable breakfast spot into a lunch and even dinner dining location.
This came with significant changes to the menu, which, at first, was not as well received as Paul had hoped.
“Our first menu probably didn’t connect well with our customers. And we noticed that straight away,” Paul admits.
“We took it from an all-day dining café to this – I don’t want to say fine dining – but this venue that’s got items that can be a little bit polarising at times.
“We didn’t bring people along on that journey. So we’ve kind of taken a little bit of a step back, created things a little bit more approachable, putting more things in bread, a few more carby options, which people want at lunchtime.”
Sometimes, customers are, inarguably, right.
With the feedback noted, Lonely Hearts has since developed a menu that riffs on classic café dishes.
In the breakfast section, there are staples like zucchini fritters, smashed avocado on sourdough, a breakfast bagel and eggs-your-way.
The non-breakfast section of the menu contains many familiar dishes from the Australian casual dining repertoire, such as the kingfish sashimi with ponzu and lemon aspen, and burrata with cucumber and chilli anchovy oil.
According to Paul, the menu, which comes from head chef Mitch Carter, is “Italian-Asian fusion”, which is evident in dishes like the miso e pepe and spaghetti and meatballs (which uses soba noodles and gochujang sauce for a kick).
For the café crowd, Lonely Hearts’ coffee comes from Five Senses, in espresso-based formats.
For the brunch and lunch diners with time to kill or something to celebrate, there is a wine list, featuring all Australian producers, a small selection of beer, and a cocktail list designed by Kayla Grigoriou of Needle & Pin.
“I hope people come in here, sit back, relax and just become immersed in the place, allow it to be what it is, which is a fun atmosphere, a relaxed atmosphere, non-judgemental,” Paul says.
“I want it to be a bit of a free space… I also would like to encourage people to immerse themselves in a new experience or to do something a little bit different – try kingfish sashimi, try the beef tartare, have oysters and a glass of bubbles at 9am. That sort of thing.”
Lonely Hearts is located at 33 Warwick Street, Walkerville and operates 7am ‘til 2pm Monday to Sunday.